Archive for February, 2012

What are the treatment options for a herniated disk?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a herniated disk in my lower back. What does this mean? And what are my treatment options?

DEAR READER: Your spine is made up of a stack of bones called vertebrae. In between each of the vertebrae are intervertebral disks that cushion these bones. Each disk is made of a soft gel core surrounded by a tough, fibrous outer shell. A disk's outer shell can tear. If the gel in the middle of the disk bulges out through the tear in the shell, the condition is called a herniated disk.

How do I use a cane?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently had a right hip replacement. My doctor says I'm ready to use a cane. What's the best way to use one?

DEAR READER: A cane will get you on your feet and allow you to be more active. It will also help you strengthen your body and give you some independence while your hip heals.

What is the connection between diabetes and foot health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've heard that diabetics need to take good care of their feet. But what do feet have to do with diabetes?

DEAR READER: Why should keeping your blood sugar levels down have anything to do with your feet? It's an understandable question. The connection isn't obvious.

What is croup?

DEAR DOCTOR K: There have been a few cases of croup in my son's day care. I'm sure it's just a matter of time before my son gets it. What do I need to know?

DEAR READER: Croup is a fairly common illness in children in the age range of 3 months to 3 years. It is unusual in kids older than 6. It results in a hoarse voice and loud, raspy breathing. Taking in a deep breath, which should be nearly silent, instead is quite noisy. The most recognizable symptom is a harsh, brassy cough that sounds like a seal's bark.

What is the treatment for ingrown toenails?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a painful ingrown toenail. Can I treat it at home, or should I leave it to a professional?

DEAR READER: Ingrown toenails can really hurt. They are the best reason I know to regularly trim your toenails. Most ingrown toenails develop when a corner of the toenail curves down and digs into the skin. There's usually soreness, swelling, redness and warmth. The area may become infected. Whether or not you should treat an ingrown toenail at home depends on the severity of your symptoms and whether you have a complicating medical condition.

What are bedsores and how can they be prevented?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I care for my elderly mother, who is confined to her bed most of the time. I'm worried about her getting bedsores. How can I prevent them?

DEAR READER: You're right to be concerned, since bedsores cause pain and can lead to serious infections. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to prevent your mother from getting them.

How can I talk to my teen about drug and alcohol abuse?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage son seems different lately. He's lost interest in team sports, is more secretive and is hanging with a new crowd. I'm worried he may be abusing drugs or alcohol. I keep trying, but he won't really talk to me about it. What can I do?

DEAR READER: Few things are more important to teenagers than being part of a group of their peers. It appears to be hard-wired in us: Teenagers in many different cultures tend to band together, and to suffer if they are not part of a group. When the group does drugs, they can be hard to resist.

What are the health benefits of tai chi?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm getting older and need to find a new way to keep fit. I've heard that tai chi might be a good option. Can you tell me more about it and its health benefits?

DEAR READER: Tai chi is often described as "meditation in motion." I think it could just as well be called MEDICATION in motion. This mind-body practice appears to help treat or prevent many health problems. Tai chi is a low-impact, slow-motion exercise. As you practice it, you move fluidly through a series of motions. The motions are named for animal actions such as "white crane spreads its wings," or for martial arts moves.

What can I expect during a mammogram?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I just scheduled my first mammogram. What can I expect during the procedure?

DEAR READER: Unfortunately, I can't tell you from personal experience. I know what every doctor knows, but only a person who has undergone a medical procedure firsthand really knows what it's like.

What are the long-term care options for my elderly parent?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My elderly father lives with my family. But I have my own health issues and don't think I'll be able to care for him much longer. What are my options for long-term care?

DEAR READER: When I was in medical school, there were basically two options for long-term care: People moved in with their kids, or they were cared for in nursing homes. Nursing homes were an option only if the older folks had medical conditions that required constant nursing care.